This photograph was taken at the 1906 French Grand Prix, run on a 64-mile-long triangular course of closed public roads to the east of Le Mans. These would be lapped six times on each of the two days of the race, on 26 and 27 June.
The report of the race mentioned that ‘all the sporting movement’ gathered for four days – so this picture was almost certainly taken on 24 or 25 June. It shows Albert Clément’s 100HP Clément-Bayard being pushed from the weighing tent just after being weighed.
The French automobile industry persuaded the Automobile Club de France (ACF) to organise the Grand Prix as an alternative to the Gordon Bennett races, which limited each competing country’s number of entries regardless of the size of its industry – and France had the largest automobile industry in Europe at the time. Naturally, the Grand Prix imposed no limits on entries per country.
The combined race distance of 769 miles over two days would last for over 12 hours overall. Albert Clément achieved a commendable third place. He lost second position on the second day to Felice Nazzaro’s FIAT, which was undoubtedly helped by its novel Michelin detachable rims with tyres already fitted, reducing the time to change a punctured tyre (of which there were many) from 11 minutes to 4. The race was won by Ferenc Szisz’s 90CV Renault.
The curious racing number derives from the rule adopted that year: each of a team’s entries was assigned a letter, and most teams entered three cars. 13B was thus assigned to Villemain (retired with a wheel failure) and 13C to “De la Touloubre” (retired with a broken gearbox).
We have not been able to find much detailed information on the three cars entered for the 1906 race. Different sources suggest that they had a capacity of 16.8 litres or 12.8 litres, and contemporary photographs imply that they were shaft driven. That is all we have.
Albert Clément was the son of Gustave Adolphe Clément, founder and owner of the Clément-Bayard company; he only ever raced for his father’s firm. Albert sadly died while practising for the 1907 French Grand Prix on 17 May. After 1908 Gustave gave up racing, but continued to manufacture cars, airships and aeroplanes and to invest in other motor manufacturers, among them Panhard et Levassor, Clément-Talbot and Citroën. In 1922 the Clément-Bayard company was sold to André Citroën, and the factory at Levallois-Perret built the 2CV for the next 40 years.
Photo courtesy of The Richard Roberts Archive.